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Minister’s lifeline could stop £450m mega incinerator for Wisbech

MP Steve Barclay has been recused from Wisbech incinerator decision making

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Newly knighted MP Sir Mark Spencer – Minister of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) – tossed a lifeline to objectors by refusing to grant an immediate environmental permit for a £450m incinerator at Wisbech.

Mr Spencer, who is the minister for waste incineration, explained his directive “applies to proposed developments that do not yet hold an environmental permit for waste incineration, regardless of whether they hold planning permission from the relevant planning authority”.

He has ordered Defra officials “to lead a piece of work considering the role of waste incineration in the management of residual wastes in England”.

Mr Spencer said: “I am issuing this direction for a short period lasting until 24 May 2024, but this could be withdrawn earlier.”

His letter was sent on Thursday to Philip Duffy, chief executive of the Environment Agency.

Coincidentally it follows a warning from Mr Spencer’s Defra boss – Secretary of State and NE Cambs MP Steve Barclay – that if the Wisbech incinerator were to go ahead it would undermine “legally binding targets” to halve the amount of household waste going to landfill or incineration.

Mr Barclay has been recused from any involvement in the decision-making process over the Wisbech incinerator since it is an issue which affects his own constituency.

But that hasn’t stopped the MP from speaking out on the issue arguing that “the fight must continue to oppose this scheme given the massive blot on the landscape it will cause”.

A copy of Mr Spencer’s letter to Mr Duffy was released last night.

Here it is in full:

“Dear Philip, As the Minister responsible for waste incineration, I am writing to you regarding environmental permitting and waste incineration facilities.

Thank you for your letter dated 28 March 2024. Your response to my letter (dated 22 March 2024) was clear and constructive.

On reflection of your response and my concerns set out previously with regard to further expanding England’s waste incineration capacity, and the risks this poses to our objectives and environmental obligations.

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I am writing to inform you that I am issuing a Direction to the Environment Agency, under regulation 62 of the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2016, to temporarily pause the determination of environmental permits for new waste incineration facilities, including Energy from Waste and Advanced Thermal Treatment.

This applies to proposed developments that do not yet hold an environmental permit for waste incineration, regardless of whether they hold planning permission from the relevant planning authority.

As per our correspondence, this does not apply to permits for hazardous or clinical waste incineration facilities, small waste incineration plants, incinerators seeking a permit variation for an existing environmental permit, significant permit variations for incinerators seeking to develop carbon capture and storage provision, or facilities whose primary purpose is the recycling of materials (i.e. the reprocessing of waste materials into products, materials, or substances).

The intention of this Direction is to cover facilities with the primary purpose of energy recovery, either directly through power, gasification, or conversion of residual wastes to a fuel. I am issuing this direction for a short period lasting until 24 May 2024, but this could be withdrawn earlier.

This will allow a short period for Defra officials to lead a piece of work considering the role of waste incineration in the management of residual wastes in England.

I have attached a copy of the Direction which I understand has been agreed between our officials.

I welcome and thank you for this collaborative approach. I am happy to discuss this Direction further if this is helpful do so.

I copy this letter to Tamara Finkelstein – Defra Permanent Secretary, David Hill – Director General Environment, and Emma Bourne – Director Resources & Waste.

Yours sincerely, Rt. Hon. Sir Mark Spencer MP

Ginny Bucknor of the campaign group WisWIN (Wisbech Without Incineration) group is not enthused – – yet anyway – by Sir Mark’s intervention.

“Sir Mark Spencer (the guy in the EA responsible for issuing Incinerator permits), newly knighted by the Prime Minister at Easter, permit decisions deferred until 24th May,” she wrote on the group’s Facebook page.

Campaigner Ginny Bucknor rallied, campaigned, and fought with her group WisWIN – Wisbech Without Incineration – to halt the project. PHOTO: Terry Harris

Campaigner Ginny Bucknor rallied, campaigned, and fought with her group WisWIN – Wisbech Without Incineration – to halt the project. PHOTO: Terry Harris

“All over the UK there are local elections where there are incinerators awaiting permits. “I just don’t see why the permits – many outstanding for more than a year – are being decided upon in May after the elections.

“Or it may just be me being cynical after all this time.”

She added: “Whilst I would really like to see it this as positive, Mark Spencer has suddenly posted this a few days after being knighted, hence my cynicism. Another knighthood was awarded to an Egyptian-born billionaire Mohamed Mansour who gave £5m to the Conservative Party.”

 

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